This morning, as I was finishing my run and trying to find some bananas to buy, I saw Ian walking up Hope Road. Ian is one of the young men on the corner of Hope Road and Trafalgar, a main intersection in Kingston.
Ian washes windshields for a living. He is 20 years old, he tells me. He is tall and skinny and it looks like he has engaged in the trend of “bleaching” that is popular among some people here in Jamaica. In essence, people use chemicals to make their skin (usually their face) lighter. Ian’s eyes are glassy and bloodshot, no wonder, as every time I talk to him he tells me he has been enjoying a drink the night before.
Today he told me that he was coming from his family home, a three house complex, “it nice,” he said. Other days I have seen him walking to “work” in nice clothes. On the way, he changes into what he has worn the previous days, usually an old, torn t-shirt and shorts. As we walked, he collected his bucket from behind a concrete wall, where he hides it every evening.
Today I asked him how much he makes per day. He said that from about 6am to 10:00am, he makes around $1,500. This is about $15 US. Considering the fact that these guys are hustlers and will say or do whatever it takes to get ahead, and the fact that he tells me it is his birthday every couple of months in an effort to get some money or something out of me, let’s speculate on the side of caution and estimate that he actually makes more than that per day. Let’s say around $3,000 a day.
This is more than minimum wage here in Jamaica. Minimum wage is about $5,600 per week. This is about $550 US per week. So even if Ian is telling the truth, he makes more than minimum wage cleaning windshields- about $7,500 per week. He tells me he prefers that kind of work as opposed to a regular job because he doesn’t like anyone to tell him what to do. After he finishes at 10:00am, he says he goes to HalfWay Tree to hang out and try to hustle more money.
The exchange between motorists and these guys (they are all men) is a delicate exchange, every single time. If you are too aggressive in waving them away, they can retaliate and strike your car or worse. If you have no money and they have already decided to go ahead and clean your glass, same thing. Or, you have to surrender whatever small bills you have in the car. I know many people here keep coins handy to give to these guys.
I always wonder if Ian and his peers would get off the streets and out of Jamaica’s informal economy if they had the chance. I don’t think so.